Fishing your way into spring – Local rivers are starting to produce some steady fishing opportunities

A guide shoves off with two clients from the Varney Bridge fishing access Monday morning. Recent spring-like weather has meant improving fishing conditions around the county.   Photo by Greg Lemon

A guide shoves off with two clients from the Varney Bridge fishing access Monday morning. Recent spring-like weather has meant improving fishing conditions around the county. Photo by Greg Lemon

Our long, cold, windy winter seems to be lifting.

Of course, a statement like that could jinx the whole thing. I’m sure before we’ve said goodbye to old Jack Frost for good, he’ll be back a couple of more times. Still, the grass is finally greening up, the trees are just starting to peek out a leaf or two and fisherman from around this part of the state are probing our local waters and, in many cases, finding some good success.

The one good thing about this past winter has been snow, at least it’s been good if you’re a fisherman interested in late summer stream flows.

The snowpack in the high country around southwest Montana is well above normal.

In the Jefferson River Basin, the snowpack is 139 percent of normal and in the Madison River Basin it’s 137 percent of normal. This stored up water should keep rivers full of cool water during the warm summer months.

But our long-lasting winter has put some spring hatches off a bit.

For instance, this year the Mother’s Day caddis hatch on the Madison River could actually miss its appointed holiday.

However, Matt Carey at the Madison River Fishing Company in Ennis wouldn’t recommend hitting the river this week without a few caddis flies in you box just in case.

Right now fish on the upper and lower Madison both seem to be going for nymphs. On the upper Madison, Carey recommends sticking with medium stonefly nymphs – size 8 or 10 – with a smaller dropper like a red brassie, copper John or pheasant tail, maybe size 16.

But if the weather warms up a bit, like it’s expected to by the end of this week, the March brown mayflies will start to come off. This hatch can be matched with size 10 or 12 dark mayfly patterns, like a parachute Adams or purple haze.

And if the March browns are popping, start looking for caddis as well. A good Mother’s Day caddis pattern is a basic peacock caddis, he said.

On the other side of the Tobacco Roots, the Ruby, Beaverhead, Big Hole and Jefferson Rivers have all been fishing well, said Graham Murphy at Four Rivers Fishing Company in Twin Bridges.

The skwalla hatch on the Big Hole River has been solid this year, Murphy said. He recommends a size 8 or 10 Chubby Chernobyl or Bugmeister for good skwalla patterns. For nymphs on the Big Hole right now smaller zug bugs and hare’s ears seem to be working well.

The skwalla hatch on the Jefferson River is off this year, he said.

“I think it might be a funky year for skwallas on the Jefferson and we might not see the number we had in previous years,” Murphy said.

Still large stonefly nymphs are working along with a burgundy colored San Juan worm and streamers – white, yellow and olive colored.

On the Ruby River look to fish upstream of Silver Springs, just outside of Sheridan and bring some blue wing olive patterns along with baetis and Mother’s Day caddis. For nymphs on the Ruby, any sort of smaller tale water type nymphs will work.

But if you’re heading to the Ruby, you should go soon. The water will start spilling over the dam soon and then the river will blow out until the middle of June, he said.

On the Beaverhead River, yellow and white streamers are working well, along with zug bugs and burgundy San Juan worms. He also recommends pink sow bugs along with blue wing olives and skwalla patterns.

“The fishing for the Beaverhead will really, really pick up here when the irrigation ditches turn on and that will happen here in the next couple of weeks,” Murphy said.

Be sure to check your fishing regulations before heading out. On the Madison River, fishing is still closed between Quake Lake and McAtee Bridge and between the bridge at Ennis and Ennis Lake. These stretches will open May 21.

Stream Flows

Madison River at Varney Bridge – 1,220 cfs

Madison River below Ennis Lake – 1,580 cfs

Ruby River below the dam – 142 cfs

Jefferson River near Twin Bridges – 1,560 cfs

Big Hole River at Melrose – 1,060 cfs

Beaverhead River at Barretts – 424 cfs

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